New recording studio at Ypsi's Parkridge Community Center aims to promote youth as cultural leaders

Staff at Ypsilanti's Parkridge Community Center have realized a years-long dream of creating a world-class music recording studio to host educational programming for area youth. Programming recently kicked off at the new studio, which arose from a partnership between the nonprofit Youth Arts Alliance (YAA), the community center, and other community organizations.


Parkridge already had a relationship with YAA through a previous mural project in the community center at 591 Armstrong Dr. in Ypsi. So Parkridge community development manager Anthony Williamson was excited when YAA executive director Heather Martin mentioned her plans for a music and arts program aimed at youth transitioning out of the juvenile justice system and their peers. YAA won a $25,000 Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation In Our Neighborhood grant to fund the idea.


Williamson says he's wanted Parkridge to offer expanded music and arts programming for years, but two previous grant applications had been rejected. He says the basketball court in the center is a big draw for teens, but he hopes to divert some of those youth to the center's other programming.


"If we get them to come in through the art door, that's fine as long as, at the end of the day, they benefit from all the efforts the center is doing to improve academics and eventually ... attend Washtenaw Community College," Williamson says.


Parkridge donated an underused exercise room to house the studio, while YAA will provide teaching artists and programming. Tyler Duncan, a local music producer who once designed a studio for music legend Prince, lent his expertise to the project.


"(Duncan) was instrumental in the design and layout of the music recording booth," Martin says. "Tyler has done a lot to ensure we have the best equipment."


A long list of community partners are contributing in other ways, including the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court, the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, the Michigan Juvenile Justice Youth Advisory Board, Radiant City, and the Washtenaw County Mental Health Department. The Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice is helping spread the word about the project and the University of Michigan School of Public Health will be evaluating its impact.


The Association of African American Contractors' Washtenaw chapter played a particularly pivotal role by providing labor and expertise to build the studio. Bryan Foley, a member of the contractors association, says one of the organization's secondary goals is to introduce youth to the building trades, so the studio project was a great fit.


"They asked if we would be willing to share our time, energy, and resources with them, and we jumped at the opportunity," Foley says.


The association engaged six local youth in the building process, including Marnez Taylor, 16. He says he's helped build backyard sheds in the past, but he still learned a great deal from the process.


"I like to build things and I wanted to learn more about building and things like that, so it was very interesting and I learned a lot doing it," Taylor says.


Foley says most of the other youth didn't have any construction skills, so he started from the beginning.


"I introduced them to just the basic hand tools, like a screwdriver, drill, saw, tape measure, and hammer," he says, even going into detail about how to read the different lines on a tape measure.


Foley also took the young people shopping at Home Depot so he could show them the various grades of lumber and what they're used for.


"As I worked with them, I'd see them light up by having these hands-on lessons and building something and seeing it come to life," he says. "It was a really spiritually enlightening experience to see that and be a part of that."


Youth who are transitioning out of the juvenile justice system can receive double community service hours both for helping construct the studio and taking part in the programming. Martin emphasizes that while the programming is partially focused on youth who have been involved with the juvenile justice system, it is open to all Ypsi-area youth.


The studio's first day of programming kicked off May 29. Although construction wasn't fully completed yet, young people had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the recording equipment and create some beats.


Visual arts and music workshops will run from 4:30-6 p.m. every Wednesday this summer at the studio, and additional YAA programming will be held in collaboration with Parkridge's summer camp program. Martin says programming will expand to other days of the week as the studio "gain(s) traction."


In the long term, community center staff would like to see the studio opened up to all area residents, not just youth. Williamson says he knows there are many adults in the community who have expertise in singing or songwriting, and he'd like to see some "intergenerational programming" in the future.


Martin says the studio will also help to nurture Ypsi's young artists in a professional setting. YAA hosted an event during spring break in which young artists were paid to create a mural in the studio space, and Martin expects the studio to continue presenting similar opportunities for young people's enrichment.


"We're seeking to invest in their incredible talents and elevate them as cultural leaders," she says.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


All photos by Doug Coombe.

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